Shaping Your Path to Success in 7 Steps

In a recent Gartner survey, 47% of HR leaders believe employee experience is a top priority, yet 44% believe their organizations lack compelling career paths. While some companies have formal career development programs, many organizations leave it up to employees to manage their professional growth. Career planning—setting professional goals and developing a roadmap to get there—benefits the employer and the employee. For the company, career planning and development is a crucial employee retention strategy. Professional growth opportunities are also a great way to attract top talent and boost productivity. For employees, career planning leads to greater confidence, improved performance and increased engagement.

Career planning helps everyone, from recent grads to seasoned professionals, navigate the ever-changing job market. If you’re ready to take charge of your career path, these steps will provide the structure you need to succeed.

Understand yourself

The first step in the career planning process focuses on self-knowledge. At this stage, it may help to incorporate personality assessments and engage with a career coach or counselor. Think about your interests, skills and abilities.

Then ask yourself open-ended questions such as:

  • What do I enjoy?
  • What motivates me?
  • What are my natural gifts?
  • What things am I really good at?
  • What do people compliment me on?
  • What were my favorite classes in school?

Ultimately, individuals are happier when their values align with their jobs. So, make a list of the work values that are most important to you. Some examples include flexibility, challenge and creativity. Then, prioritize the top five or 10 and rank them by importance. By completing this exercise, you’ll be able to identify organizations that align with your values while creating a plan likely to lead to career satisfaction.

Research career options

Once you understand what matters to you, you’re ready to explore career options. Start with a list of job titles or careers that interest you. Then, gather information including salary, benefits and general requirements. In addition to online research, leverage your professional network to discover what it’s like working in those fields. First-hand knowledge is invaluable when considering the advantages and disadvantages of a specific career path. Speaking with current employees will also help you more accurately identify companies that align with your work values.

Experience the career

After narrowing down your options, it’s time to experience the job in person. Leverage your previous informational interviews to arrange for a job shadowing opportunity. Observing someone in the field for a half-day, full-day or longer is a great way to take your potential career for a test drive. By shadowing a professional on the job, you’ll also meet additional people in the field, which will help develop your network. Some other ways to get a first-hand look at potential roles include volunteering, part-time work and internships.

Select a career path

Now that you’ve done your homework, it’s time to weigh the pros and cons of each option. Consider your values, priorities, strengths, weaknesses and inner motivations. Review your previous research and imagine your ideal work environment. Try to find the intersection of what you enjoy and are good at. Once you’ve decided, conduct a gap analysis to identify any skills that need to be acquired or developed. That way, you can add those steps to your action plan.

Create an action plan

An action plan contains your short and long-term career goals and the steps you need to take to achieve them. It’s a roadmap that will get you from where you are now to where you want to be. At this stage, it helps to utilize the SMART goal template:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

This format helps ensure that your goals are realistic and achievable. It’s also a great way to hold yourself accountable and celebrate small wins along the way.

Develop your personal brand

No matter what job or career you choose, personal branding—the art of creating a public identity for yourself—is essential. It’s an intentional practice designed to help you define your value proposition and position you as a thought leader. Start by refining your social media accounts and creating specialized content targeted to your audience. This stage also includes updating your résumé. Another helpful strategy is to create a personal website. That way, you can control your online reputation, build a platform and showcase your skills and experience.

Refine your career goals

Because career planning is a lifelong process, regularly reassess and refine your goals. Set aside time each month or quarter to reflect on your progress and identify improvement areas. It also helps to seek feedback from a trusted source like a coach or mentor who can provide an unbiased perspective. By remaining flexible and adaptable, you’ll build a thriving career that can withstand any job market.

No matter what stage you are in, it pays to embrace career planning. By approaching your professional journey with intention, you’ll be more likely to make well-informed decisions and achieve the fulfillment you deserve.


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